County officials pleased with recycling program#039;s growth

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 20, 2003

How do you measure the success of the Mower County recycling program?

Jeff Weaver, the program's administrator, does it this way.

"We have about 10,000 square feet of storage capacity in the recycling center," he said. "With 16 1/2-foot tall ceilings, we could fill that space almost four times a year with the nearly four million pounds of recyclable materials we collect annually. If you can just visualize that, you get some idea of how much material we have kept out of the landfills and had recycled."

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Residents of communities are receiving door-hangers of information about recycling.

Local newspapers and shoppers have had fliers telling about the program and listing the schedule.

Later this summer, a new flip-chart style booklet will seek to educate citizens on the importance of recycling.

The program created by former longtime Mower County Commissioner Robert Shaw continues to evolve.

Weaver knows best how the program has helped the environment. "The only way to really measure that is by volume," he said.

From 834 tons in the program's first full year of operation, the program grew to 1,900 tons a year at its peak before leveling off in the mid- and late-1990s.

But think about it: 950 tons of newspapers, 260 tons of corrugated material,

70 tons of office paper (most of it from local businesses); 140 tons of magazines; 9 tons of telephone books; 100 tons of steel (tin) cans; 26 tons of aluminum; 240 tons of glass; and 100 tons of plastic. All recycled in 2002.

In return, the county earned $130,660.33.

Weaver believes the participation level has reached a peak and is leveling off. However, he also believes the county's strategy must be to educate residents and to encourage them to recycle more materials. Newspaper and plastic, the high profile items among recyclables, are one thing, but getting all households to separate their glass, steel and other recyclables is another.

Also, he sees "hope" for more participation in the area of household hazardous wastes. "Our collections have been growing each year since we started the program in 1995," he said.

Not only is the county able to help residents take and keep the hazardous materials out of the waste stream, it is also helping put the paints, at least, back into use.

Weaver said the greater Mower County communities are also very important to the recycling program. The bright, blue roll-offs that have replaced the tiny recycling sheds in each community outside Austin give everyone everywhere the opportunity to help their own corners of the world by protecting the environment.

So, Weaver is encouraged by the new surge of interest this summer in recycling. Door-hangers with solid information, the recycling calendar in newspapers and shoppers and later the 20-page booklet all add up to a high approval rating from Weaver.

"We're doing the best we can to get more people involved all the time and to educate the citizens on what they can do," he said.

The 14-year-old program also passes the inspection of Richard P. Cummings, 1st District, Mower County Commissioner. Cummings, a rural Lansing resident, was there when the recycling program started and remains a member of the county board's solid waste committee today.

"I think we have a good program" Cummings said. "Participation has leveled off, but it still provides a valuable service for all."

Cummings believes the renewed efforts to generate more awareness about the program and to educate citizens about the importance of recycling are worth the investment.

"We're going what we can. We use the home show in March, advertising, the fliers in the paper and shopper this week and soon we will have the information booklet, too."

Cummings is waiting for Weaver to tell the county commissioners of his findings in researching the possibility of a cathode ray tube collection. "That's a whole new niche for us. Television sets, personal computers and other electronics. We could do a lot in that area," Cummings said.

Dick Lang, 4th District county commissioner, agreed with Cummings' assessments of the program's success.

"We have an excellent program," Lang said. "Anything we can add to it can only help."

Lang said recycling isn't anything new.

"We did it after World War II," he said. "We collected rubber, glass, tin and other materials for reuse just like they did during the war. That was the first recycling."

Garry Ellingson, 5th District county commissioner and chairman of the county board, is another champion of recycling. In fact, Ellingson believes the Mower County program is ready to go to a new level.

He and Weaver are exploring the possibility that an electronics collection service could be offered in cooperation with waste hauler Waste Management.

"Freeborn County does it now and it's working well," Ellingson said. "If we can offer a once-a-year collection for cathode ray tubes, computers and other electronics we'll be doing even more. Anytime you can take anything out of the waste stream and our landfills, that's great."

(Lee Bonorden can be contacted at 434-2232 or by e-mail at